Taking Potshots at the Wrong Target

Last week I read a review in a major publishing magazine that really kinda bugged me. It reviewed a nonfiction work soon to come out, and though it had some good things to say about the book and author, I was extremely disappointed when it took a shot at the author’s writing ability.

Since when did that ever matter?

Now, rhetorically speaking, why would someone do this?  Think about that for a moment. This was a nonfiction piece, not fiction. Not a memoir, nor an essay. And it definitely wasn’t literary fiction. It’s a book written by someone who obviously had a passion, an energy about a topic enough so that s/he wanted to share it. Within the review there was no mention made by the reviewer that the author had a professional background in writing, just that the author had a professional background in the topic, and had an obvious passion and knowledge about what s/he had written about—so why take the unnecessary potshot at this person’s writing ability?

Give this person—and those like him/her—a break.

Sure, you put yourself “out there,” you’re gonna take a hit or two by the public, but this professional reviewer should have known better, and for that matter, so should have the editor. It matters not one wit about “being professional,” with everyone in the media field priding themselves at being so “hard hitting,” “factual,” “take no prisoners” in their approach. Instead, it broaches that fine line between honoring reviewing and being overly and unnecessarily critical. Take issue with the book’s structure, its content, maybe even with a frigging singular word choice, but (to me) taking issues with a “non-writer’s” lack of writing ability—which of course may or may not get better with practice, but does nothing for the current moment in which the book is published—is like taking issue with a physical or mental deformity. Great, you professionally pointed it out, professionally rubbed their nose in it, now, what the hell do you expect the person to do about it at this point?

Let’s not forget our humanity for each other, people.

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About fpdorchak

Paranormal fiction author.
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12 Responses to Taking Potshots at the Wrong Target

  1. Marne Ann says:

    This is interesting… I’d always assumed one needed a fair amount of skill to write and publish any work, including non-fiction.
    I like to believe all people are kind and giving souls…and I, too, am disappointed when someone so rudely bursts my illusion. I hope the author of the non-fiction you speak of sees that review for what it is… a free marketing opportunity and nothing else 😉
    Great post, btw…

    • fpdorchak says:

      Thanks, Marne. Well, it’s not always a bad thing that not-so-well-written material gets published. Not everyone IS a writer, but some have a story that needs to be told, whether fiction or nonfic. Thing is, whether or not something is well written, there has to be SOMETHING of value in the piece. And the old saying: “no such thing as bad publicity.” :-] I also undertstand that we all make mistakes, I’m not that hardlined, but it’s still disconcerting to me when I see such behavior, especially in a professional journal.

  2. Well said. I have noticed this a great deal lately while reading some reviews for an author on Amazon who is really a baby at the craft but has a great imagination. Many of us also remember the unfortunate event last spring where a reviewer completely trashed an author and then to make things worse, the author lost it. You can say, this story needs work, an editors input, but leave the personal comments at the door.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

    • fpdorchak says:

      Amazon reviews are more “common people” v. professionals, and yes, I do remember that. It was unreal! As I think I’d mentioned, then, I thought it was a fake setup of what NOT to do! But, even in “trashing” a novel, there’s a respectful way of doing it. AND…when things get too weird, like this incident did, why keep going? Back AWAY from the keyboard. Leave it. Walk it off. There’s no need to get in a shouting match, Have some decorum. Literally, let whoever’s yelling have the last word and just let go….

  3. karen Lin says:

    I find it is a matter of taste. And also that writers and agents and publishers are trained to catch the craft issues and have a harder time overlooking them and just enjoying or learning from the material. I’m guilty of it myself sometimes. It is a blessing and a curse to know the craft. Karen

    • fpdorchak says:

      Are you saying behaving respectfully is a matter of “taste”? Not sure I get what you’re saying, Karen. But, I understand about “slipping”; I remember a particular and recent reply of mine where I got a bit passionate about my response. But in a professional platform, one in which several sets of eyes–and rewrites–have theoretically been performed, that should not have gotten through. I even understand about deadlines and things falling through the cracks. But whatever the “habit” might be, said habit is telling enough, because is it not the common and most-oft-repeated performance that becomes habit? Are we losing our social graces? WHY do we feel the need to trash anything, advertently or inadvertently? To sell ourselves? Maybe it’s behavor like this that needs to be held up and reminded to the purveyor that there are PEOPLE behind those words, people with feelings and good intent, and that, really, there is no need to take unmitigated potshots just because you can. Just because you can tell good from bad anything. In a learning environment is one thing, where you’re asking for it, even paying for it, but it should still be respectful. Considerate. I say we should all try to turn this behavior around in our dealings with the world, call it when we see it, because, really, do we all want to spread MORE discontent in the world–or good will?

      Thanks, everyone, for your responses!

  4. Ron H says:

    I’m going to get killed on this one. But…

    Without having seen either the review or the book, it’s difficult to establish a perspective. However, since the book was being reviewed in a major magazine, it’s safe to assume that the author, or his publisher, is charging money for it. Again without knowing, is this a $1 book, a $15 book, or a $50 book? Are there not certain expectations based on the price paid?

    Being the improvisational guy I am, I’ve certainly created my share of crap that I’ve exposed for people to see. Hell yes, there are even times I charged money for it, mostly on stage. And double hell yes, I’ve been called to task. Appropriately.

    The reality is, that bad writing — like bad acting or bad musicianship, I’ve done them all — can be difficult to get through, no matter what the message. In the “Greek Seaman” debacle Nancy mentioned, the reviewer actually made several nice comments about the storyline and characters, yet said the book would be difficult for most people to get through because spelling and grammar (e.g. WRITING ABILITY) were poor. He still gave it a two star rating, which might be pretty darned good for something most people wouldn’t make the effort to finish.

    The world of professionals is not nicey-nice. When you charge people money for a product or service you need to accept that there are people who will find every inevitable flaw, whose JOB is to find them, and bring them to light.

    After all, we’re not investment bankers here.

  5. thinkbannedthoughts says:

    I, like Ron, have not read the book, or the review. But on general principle, I would say that pointing out that a book is poorly written is precisely what a professional reviewer SHOULD do. I mean, first the editor should have done it, and helped with that, assuming that this was published by one of the 3 houses left that still employs editors.
    But then, as a reviewer, it is your job to tell potential readers what to expect, not to fluff up a writer’s ego. And if it’s a great book, with amazing information, but poor writing makes it feel like a slog, that is important and relevant information to give.
    Two of my favorite non-fiction books of all time fall into this category. 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies and Real Food by Nina Planck.
    I recommend both of these books regularly, BUT I ALWAYS mention that the writing in them is not great, just the information and the passion with which the authors infused the works. I don’t think it’s fair to set people up with false expectations of a fabulous read if the work is actually sub-par on some level.
    It used to be that Non-fiction was held to a much lower standard of readability than fiction, but more and more non-fiction is being taken to task and the authors are expected to be able to carve a solid sentence, turn a good phrase and throw in some wit. All for the better, I say. The better the writing, the larger the audience.
    As a writer, I’d rather have my fragile ego get a little bruised and battered than have it fluffed only to fall harder when sales are poor and that second book contract falls through.
    Writing ability should always matter. And to discerning readers, it always does.

  6. fpdorchak says:

    Bring it! :-]

    Well, then, at WHOM should said potshots have been taken?! Note post title.

    If it was such a big deal, then why did the publisher publish it?

    And, really, you two are taking issues with whether or not something is actually (ooh, how I shudder!) WELL WRITTEN? I must take you both to task on that, apologies up front! I’ve picked up many a fiction book and been surprisingly disgusted at what I found passed for good writing. But again–I doubt it WAS published for its writing, but for what The Suits thought they could SELL. Again, as I’ve iterated previously, that doesn’t mean good writing isn’t out there, or won’t make something sellable better…I’m just saying that good writing isn’t always the end result. AND, as I stated way up top, that some pieces of nonfic should even be sold even if the writing is sub par. Is there heart to the effort? Something unusual? Cool? Disgusting? Earth shattering? There are other considerations that should also be considered. I’m not saying that only works of art should be published, and I’m fast softening on my position of well-written fiction being a must-have, but there really has to be SOMETHING of value in a sub-par written performance.

    I love it, the both of you!

    Look, I’m not gonna mention either party for various reasons, one of which is that it’s not really germane. Some of my points are 1) that for nonfiction, see my reply at the top with Marne Ann, 2) what’s the point at the-point-of-public release? What, exactly, can the author do about it? 3) One person’s poor writing, is another’s literary gold! Let the reader decide if something is crappily written or not. I’ve questioned handsful of people on books I thought were crappy, and been told the exact opposite by READERS (not writers, mind you, I intentionally asked only readers).

    Yes, life is hard. Tough. In my work I am always before those without filters when they express their dislike, and me in the Third Person–even when I’m IN THE SAME ROOM. It’s the way these people express themselves, for good or bad. When one is in a learning situation, it’s different than at a point of no return. But even in expressing one’s opinion, it should be done respectfully. What’s the point otherwise? What’s gained? Believe me I’ve been at the other end, even knowing all this, and being callous gets one no where. Being Mr. or Missus Tough Guy or Tough Gal who prides themselves on stating it like it is…is what, exactly? What’s the Takeway on that? Taking someone off at the knees? What in hell for? Since when did the term “professional” mean being a jerk (and I’ve studied the term in college), or uncaring. I’d think, at least in THIS industry, that being a professional WOULD, nay SHOULD make one far MORE SENSITIVE to others’ feelings, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. One can express a LEARNING MOMENT tactfully and with great consideration, not sugar coat it, and get one’s point across. It doesn’t have to be spit with acid (BTW, this instance was not spit with acid).

    Sigh.

    I’m just asking for some common Human decency when we deal with each other, is all. The way we deal with anything is THE WAY WE DEAL WITH EVERYTHING. Go on, examine your own behavior and see if I’m wrong. If you’re grouchy and acid-spittin’, I’m bettin…you’re the same way with everything. What’s the point of taking out someone like that? It’s not just that one incident, it’s what I’m seeing across the board. We seem to be losing out ability to DEAL WITH EACH OTHER, cause we’re all so stuck behind these damn machines that are supposed to make our lives better. You both have quite valid points, and I thank you for bringing them out. Yes, writing should always matter–but reality shows us that it actually doesn’t.

    So, in your words, let’s all make an extra effort be PROFESSIONALLY CONSIDERATE! :-]

  7. Ron H says:

    Again, fine sir, a major part of the issue on the table is not that the reviewer was too harsh, evil, or just having a bad hair day.

    Having not seen the actual review, nor having been provided a link to it, we are forced to make our own evaluations based not on the review, but your interpretation of it.

    Harsh as it may seem, in today’s world criticism is often a large part of the measure in determining how and where to spend the increasingly limited funds in a reader’s wallet.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’ve read a lot of crap in my life. But I didn’t have to pay for it… most of it was my own.

    — An apropos segue to my next point. If no one bothers to point out flaws to the writer in question, will he/she be motivated to improve?

    Professionally and Considerately,
    Ron

    • fpdorchak says:

      Ron–you are a WORTHY adversary–I mean contemporary! :-]

      I went looking for the review, but couldn’t find it, but still didn’t want to post it to keep embarrasment issues out of the discussion–for either party–nor did I want to get into “all that” about should I or shouldn’t I have posted that link. Yes, my perception (as are the letters and spaces I use heavily influenced by my perception, yet you seem to understand me and still keep coming back for more! ;-] ), yet I feel I stated the situation fairly, though I also feel the argument got somewhat “widened” as we discusses things. Is okay. It all made for GREAT discussion!

      I agree–in learning mode. I’m just saying that crappy writing to one is literary gold to another–let the reader decide; reviews typically don’t drive my reading choice–I go check out a couple pages for myself; how do we know nothing was said behind closed doors about writing ability?

      Most enjoyable all this was–and I thank eveyone for taking time out of their reading and writing efforts to stop by and partake!

      Consider yourself tres professional considerate! :-]

  8. Pingback: Define Professionalism « Runnin Off at the Mouth….

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